Accessible Transit: Transportation for People with Disabilities in the 1990s

By Hale, Paul N., Jr.; Shipp, Michael | The Journal of Rehabilitation, April-June 1989 | Go to article overview

Accessible Transit: Transportation for People with Disabilities in the 1990s


Hale, Paul N., Jr., Shipp, Michael, The Journal of Rehabilitation


Accessible TRANSIT Transportation for People with Disabilities in the 1990s

Personal Transportation: A Challenge to the Rehabilitation Community

Over the past 10 years, there have been significant changes in the technology available to assist people with disabilities in becoming more independent through driving. The sophistication of this technology is creating a number of problems that must be addressed in the 1990s. This feature will review developments in the field and indicate some of the issues that must be addressed in the next decade.

Equipment

There has been a decrease in the number of companies manufacturing products at the low and medium level of technology but an increase in the number of different driving systems available for people with severe disabilities. This decrease has occurred because of the risks associated with manufacturing and distributing these products. First, the manufacturers are dealing with products that can be classified as "orphan products." This means that the potential product market is quite small and may require that the product be sold at a high unit price in order to recover development and production costs. Second, the product liability exposure associated with providing these products to persons with disabilities is significant. Even the most reputable companies may be paying as much as ten to twelve percent of gross income for insurance and these insurance policies may include a thirty-day notice of cancellation.

There have been some inroads with the automotive industry in this period. Both Ford and General Motors have been involved in hardware development. Unfortunately, these efforts proved to be unrewarding to them primarily because of a lack of profitability and the potential of liability exposure. There are no current hardware development activities underway involving the automotive industry. To their credit, they have established a number of new programs to assist persons with disabilities. These programs include an information hotline and up to $500 to offset the cost of adaptive equipment installed on a Chrysler Motors product; and GMAC finance packaging of vehicle and modifications, and information through its dealers network by General Motors. It is not anticipated that there will be any hardware-oriented activities by the automotive industry in the future.

Vehicles

It has only been since the mid-1970s that vans have been widely used for personal transportation, thus allowing people to drive from their wheelchairs. This has created many challenges to the adaptive equipment industry, including proper driver positioning, wheelchair occupant protection, entry/exist systems, and control systems.

The advent of mini-vans in the 1980s has created further challenges to the industry in that many consumers wish to drive the smaller vans, but space available for entry and accommodation of a wheelchair in the driver position is extremely limited. The relatively low market potential in this area has again caused delays in the development of new technology to address these problems.

Even for those who are able to drive a sedan, the reduction in size of vehicles has reduced the number of choices available. The Society of Automotive Engineers is developing a computer program that is designed to assist consumers in making appropriate vehicle selections based on the space available for wheelchair storage behind the front seat and in the trunk.

Liability

Not only are the manufacturers exposed through product liability, but several others involved in the field of personal transportation for disabled persons have liability concerns.

Evaluators are responsible for the safety of the client during the evaluation, determining the driving abilities of the client, and in making an appropriate determination of adaptive equipment and vehicle modifications.

Rehabilitation Services Agencies are responsible for providing for an appropriate evaluation and training and assuring that appropriate adaptive equipment and vehicle modifications are provided to the client. …

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